With the CM Punk/Chicago crowd situation receiving a lot of attention, this Raw was more highly anticipated than most by the average fan. Many wondered: will CM Punk make a triumphant return in his home city of Chicago? Spoiler: No, he did not. I didn’t so much expect a Punk return, but I wondered how WWE would handle the feisty crowd that was dead-set on trying to derail the show. WWE’s response? Put on a great show and win the crowd over. A novel idea, but it actually worked.
Not surprisingly, the first theme to play on Raw was Cult of Personality. Even though in the bottom of their hearts they probably knew their hero wasn’t coming out, the Chicago fans can not help but to give out a massive roar. A lot of fans expected WWE to send someone out to Punk’s theme, perhaps Triple H or even Bad News Barrett. One person I didn’t see mentioned as a candidate to come out to Punk’s theme was the man who actually came out: Paul Heyman.
Sending out Heyman to deal with the tough Chicago crowd was a genius move by WWE and I applaud them for it. If anyone can handle a nuclear crowd, it is Paul Heyman. It made sense because Heyman was heavily involved with Punk in storyline for most of 2013, and most known that Heyman and Punk are also friends outside of the business.
Heyman begins his promo by saying that Punk deserves louder cheers than the already deafening chants that have been pouring in. The crowd obliges, and initially it is unclear what angle Heyman is trying to work with this promo, but it is soon revealed and Heyman lets it unfold masterfully.
After getting the crowd hyped up, Heyman borrows Punk’s signature Indian-style pose in the center of the ring and begins telling the Chicago crowd exactly what they want to hear. He gets the crowd to eat out of his hand by saying the WWE never wanted CM Punk and they don’t want him now, citing his outspoken and rebellious nature, small stature and all of the other CM Punk things that one might find to be a liability when trying to run a business such as the WWE.
Once Heyman has the crowd on his side and hanging at his every word, he turns it around on them by blaming Punk’s absence on them, which of course draws a ton of heat from the Punk fans. Heyman continues on by saying how the fans turned Punk “into their hero” and took him away from Heyman, and he pinpointed the Undertaker loss for Punk at Wrestlemania 29 as the beginning of the downward spiral for he and Punk.
This served as the perfect segway for Heyman to go from talking about Punk to hyping up the Lesnar and Taker match. Heyman introduces Lesnar, who comes out to a loud reaction of both boos and cheers, but it all fades into CM Punk chants by the time Brock hits the ring. We were even “treated” to something we don’t normally hear, Lesnar on the mic. Brock claims that Undertaker attacked him on Raw because he is scared to death. He sort of stumbled through the rest of the promo with slightly robotic pacing, not sure if that was intentional or not. He concluded the promo with “the streak is gonna get conquered by me, BROOCKKKK LESNAARRR”, and it just didn’t sound nearly as intimidating as Brock looks. Perhaps in the future we should just leave Brock to ass kicking.
As the segment was wrapping up, Mark Henry must have been watching backstage and thought to himself “you know what? Brock Lesnar hasn’t buried me enough yet,” because as Lesnar and Heyman were exiting, Henry’s theme hit (he did receive a nice pop).
Henry got in some offense, but not much, as Lesnar took control and before you could say World’s Strongest Man he had been F5’d through a table by Brock. I don’t think Lesnar destroying Henry again does much to add to his already maxed out legitimacy, nor do I think it is a great way to use Mark Henry in what is likely the twilight of his career. Still always a cool spectacle to see something like that though, so no major complaints.
The segment was entertaining from start to finish and a very good way to start the show.
New Age Outlaws vs The Usos- WWE Tag Team Championship Match
The Outlaws make their entrance, but instead of Road Dogg doing his usual introduction, he informs the fans that they aren’t good enough to hear his catch phrases. It draws decent heat, and I wonder why they haven’t been doing this type of thing all along since they were supposed to be heels as far as I knew.
The Usos come out and the crowd is with them from the time they do their entrance chants. They really love them some Usos in Chicago. Some people feel the WWE is dragging its feet on the Usos, but I think this was a well built feud that has provided the Usos with a great rub matching up with the Outlaws while providing the fans with some entertaining matches.
Things were pretty slow with Road Dogg wearing down Jimmy Uso early on, but once the Usos got in the drivers seat of the match the crowd was very hot. There were a couple of Punk chants early in the match, but overall the crowd was into the tag team title match. As the Usos started to get near counts, the crowd counted along with the official “ONE, TWO, OHhhhhhh”. They are desperate for the Usos to pick up the belts in this match.
The match was back and forth leading to the finishing sequence. Road Dogg jumps onto the apron to prevent Jimmy Uso’s top rope attack, but Uso hops down from the turnbuckle and gives Road Dogg a superkick for his trouble. As Jimmy is building momentum, Billy Gunn is able to counter with a big tilt-a-whirl slam. The crowd is very relieved when he kicks out at 2 1/2.
Billy Gunn attempts a famouser on Jimmy Uso, but Uso avoids it and goes flying over the top rope into Road Dogg on the outside, tagging his brother Jey into the match as he flies past. With Jimmy and Road Dogg out of the picture, Jey Uso connects with a big kick and then a splash on Billy Gunn. The referee and Chicago crowd count to 3 and the Usos have won their first tag team championship. They embrace as they are handed the titles and the crowd is electric.
The match was a little short, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it also felt rushed, which is never a good thing. Just a minor complain though, because it was a cool moment for me to see the Usos win the belts. The WWE tag division would be a much better place with more teams like the Usos. Most guys are bummed to be in the tag division, even winning the belts, but you could tell it really meant something to the Usos. My only question is who is left to feud with them?
Big E vs Cesaro
I’m not sure how much I am really enjoying this Cesaro/Swagger break up angle with Big E as the Intercontinental afterthought. Sure, I love watching Cesaro perform in the ring, but the story is pretty weak. Basically Swagger is just the inferior wrestler so he goes into fits of retardation and gets Cesaro DQ’d all the time? Riveting stuff, he said without a hint of sarcasm.
The Chicago crowd that came in with a chip on its shoulder found itself enjoying the WWE product even without their hero for the second straight match, as they were behind Cesaro in a big way, especially during his big swing of Big E. However just like last week, after Cesaro was in control of the match, Swagger interfered in the match, hitting the Swagger-bomb on the already laid out Big E. To make matters worse for Cesaro, as he was complaining to Swagger about his dumbassery, Big E felt it necessary to hit him with his lame finisher the Big Ending. I have a feeling this all ends with Cesaro winning a triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship at Mania, but I would rather he just win it sooner and have a singles match at Mania with Swagger.
The Shield vs The Wyatts
When a Cesaro match is the weak point of the first hour of Raw, you know it has been very entertaining. With the first match between these two factions being labeled an early match of the year candidate by many, they had a lot to live up to in the rematch, but they definitely rose to the challenge.
The Shield got a reaction so loud during their entrance that it rivaled Daniel Bryan for biggest pop of the night. Some crowds have been behind the Shield, but this is definitely the most fan support I can recall them having to date. When the Wyatts came out, Bray did his usual “we’re here” line, only for the first time (at least that I’ve noticed) he included the city (“Chicago, We’re Here”) which of course is a babyface tactic, and it did indeed draw a pop from the crowd. Its interesting that a group that is clearly heel in kayfabe action would be finding ways to solicit cheers from the crowd. Notice I say interesting, not necessarily bad.
There was no feeling out process in this one, as it picked up right where the Elimination Chamber match left off. Rollins was going absolutely ape shit early on, first countering Harper superplex attempt by landing on his feet and following it up by hitting a running over the top somersault onto Harper and then a twisting dive onto Rowan on the other side, landing on his feet after both moves, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Ambrose and Reigns are loving it from the corner as they cheer him on.
Rollins momentum is eventually haulted when Ambrose runs into the ring to attack Bray and Bray tosses him into the ropes, where Rollins was preparing to attempt a high risk move on Wyatt. Reigns screams at Ambrose from the corner asking him what the hell he is doing. Once order was restored in the ring, the Wyatts isolated Rollins in their corner and began working him over. At one point Ambrose goes around the outside to the Wyatts corner unprovoked, and Reigns chased him to try and bring him back. Rollins was left with nobody to tag, and it resulted in more punishment from the Wyatts.
Rollins eventually tags Ambrose in, and after a burst of vintage Ambrose going wild on the Wyatts, he too was isolated in the corner as the Wyatts systematically began to wear out Dean Ambrose. Bray Wyatt would tag in and make a point to take out Roman Reigns. Ambrose is able to momentarily break free from Wyatt, and goes to the corner to make a tag, but Seth Rollins, the only man left on the apron, refuses the tag and instead drops to the floor and leaves his Shield partners behind.
Reigns confronts him and Rollins says he is tired of being the glue guy. Reigns is clearly pissed off, but goes back to fight with Dean Ambrose and the two put up a valiant effort, but it isn’t enough to overcome the 3 on 2 odds. Reigns was taken out by a Harper suicide dive and Ambrose eventually pinned after being hit with Sister Abigail.
The match was entertaining, and I can honestly say I didn’t think Seth would be the guy to facilitate the breakup. It was a good way to book it considering he was the guy caught in the middle, but this way it can easily transition into a triple threat between the Shield at Mania, which is one match that I think every fan is dying to see.
This match, along with the entire first hour, was excellent, and the high quality of the show prevented the Chicago crowd from being able to just shit on everything they saw.
Sheamus vs Christian
I don’t have much to say about this except it is a shitty feud. I will never understand how WWE thinks they can book a guy like Sheamus to go over a guy like Christian CLEANLY two weeks in a row on Raw and expect anyone to want the feud to continue. If they drag this on to Mania it is going to have about as much momentum as the Titanic.
They had another long match like last week, that again, wasn’t bad as far as the wrestling goes, but we have very little reason to care about either of these guys as far as character or personality goes. And now that Sheamus not only beat Christian cleanly once, but twice, it doesn’t really matter what WWE tries to book, because nobody thinks Christian has a chance in hell of beating Sheamus in a Mania singles match if they so choose to drag it out that long.
Daniel Bryan/Triple H/Stephanie McMahon Segment
Bryan comes out to no surprise, the reaction of the night. The crowd would have been happy to chant yes, but just in case Daniel Bryan makes sure to instruct them to do so as he side-skips his way to the ring with his arms above his head. Bryan is still a little upset that Triple H doesn’t want to face him at Wrestlemania, so he says he isn’t going anywhere until Triple H comes to the ring.
Triple H is a decent fella, he didn’t make us wait long as he came down to the ring, and he was even nice enough to bring his lovely wife Stephanie with him. And oh my goodness…. did she look lovely. While Bryan got the pop of the night, Triple H reminded everyone once again why he is considered by many to be the greatest heel of all time, as his heat was off the charts. You could barely hear he or Stephanie talking into the mic the boos were so loud.
Stephanie begins by pointing out Bryan’s losses, which he does have quite a few of and is a valid point in the land of kayfabe. Don’t tell that to the fans, who I seriously doubt heard a single word of what poor Steph was trying to say over their ridiculous booing. Bryan completely ignored what she had to say, and instead directed his attention to Triple H, again asking him if he would like to have a gentleman’s grappling affair at Wrestlemania 30.
Triple H went back to the old line of Bryan being a “B+ Player” and told him he doesn’t lace up his boots to wrestle B+ Players. This brought out one of my favorite chants from back in the day that we rarely hear in today’s WWE world, as the Chicago crowd decided to let Triple H know they feel he is an asshole. I find this accusation to be ludicrous.
Stephanie sweetly and kindly reminds Daniel Bryan of all she and her family does for him, after all they provide the platform for him to perform and become a star on, so she does have a point. Bryan completely ignores her and says she is self righteous. As if. Bryan, being the wiener that he is, suggests that he wrestle Stephanie at Wrestlemania, and the heathens in the crowd agree for some reason. Triple H interjects, suggesting he is “90% sure Steph could kick your ass as well”.
Triple H eventually gets tired of Bryan’s bullshit, and who can blame him, and orders him to get out of the ring. A fair order, he is the boss and Bryan the employee, and his promo time has basically run up. Only Bryan, being the little troll that he is, refuses and tells Triple H to make him get out of the ring. What is this, 3rd grade D-Bry? Be a man and leave. Instead, Triple H is forced to call Kane to the ring.
As King clomped towards the ring, Bryan preemptively attacks with a suicide dive followed by a barrage of punches. Steph calls for security, and they escort Bryan out as they should. The crowd, apparently with no respect for authority, chants Daniel Bryan’s name as he exits up the ramp.
Dolph Ziggler (featuring Jesse Pinkman) vs Alberto Del Rio
I like to think of this match as Jesse Pinkman’s Raw appearance featuring my two favorite wrestlers who probably won’t be with the company a year from now. Del Rio is reportedly done with WWE when his deal expires in the next few months and Ziggler, who has a year left on his deal, is seemingly “disgruntled” to put it mildly.
Del Rio was the proud recipient of a jobber entrance, meanwhile Ziggler entered with Pinkman in some sort of car that was supposedly really fast. And for the record, I’m aware his real name isn’t Jesse Pinkman.
This match was pretty much what you would expect. Ziggler was over with the fans, Del Rio dominated and Ziggler sold like a champ. But as Del Rio eased his way toward victory, Pinkman stood up on the announcers table. Del Rio, very slowly, paces across the ring toward Pinkman and begins yelling at him. He then sticks his head through the rope and continues yelling. Ziggler comes from behind and Del Rio counters, positioning him for the cross armbreaker.
Yelling “Destinyyyy” in the direction of Pinkman, Ziggler counters Del Rio’s submission attempt and hits the Zig Zag, picking up the win, although it was like 75% Del Rio stupidity and 24% Pinkman, 1% Ziggler. I wish I could say this was the beginning of something meaningful for Ziggler, but I sincerely doubt it. The crowd loves him though, and this was a fun segment for what it was I suppose. Sending Pinkman out with Ziggler was a wise move. If they had sent him out alone he would have likely been buried.
John Cena Promo
Cena’s promo almost felt lost in the shuffle during this busy episode of Raw. Surprisingly he wasn’t as hated as he has been in past visits to Chicago. He did a good job of handling the crowd, that was pretty split as far as fans and detractors. Cena was limping about to sell a knee injury he suffered on Raw, but reports say that is a kayfabe injury, but he has an actual groin injury. Who knows.
Chicago puckered up and kissed a little ass, talking about his history at Allstate Arena, and talked about how whether they boo or cheer him he always respects Chicago. It sounds corny, and it was, but Cena sort of makes it work. It wasn’t too unbearable.
The Wyatts eventually popped up on the tron and Bray cut a promo, which always promises to be interesting. He compared Cena to a champion thoroughbred racehorse that wins race after race and every adores it, but eventually it slows down and gets put down. Bray then referred to himself as the reaper that will put Cena down. I can honestly say I am yet to hear a bad promo from Wyatt. He is money every time. I never doubted this feud, and it should only continue to get better and the match will be one of my most highly anticipated of the year.
Batista vs Daniel Bryan
If you had told me Batista was going to come back as a heel and shoot on vanilla midgets I probably would have thought it sounded awesome. However, it is not awesome. It is just pretty boring. The crowd chanted Bootista. CM Punk. Daniel Bryan. All the good stuff. The thing is, WWE and Batisa are just going to take the boos and think they are because he’s an awesome heel, when really just nobody wants to see him. Ideally people would refuse to acknowledge Batista, you know, good ol fashion X-Pac heat.
Bryan did his best to drag an entertaining match out of Batista, but it fell someone far short of entertaining for me. Mostly he worked over Batista’s leg, while Batista did what he generally does in the ring during this run, laid around looking tired for some reason despite limited physical activity. Triple H and Stephanie eventually come down to distract Bryan, and then Orton, oh yea Orton was ringside this whole time, not on color commentary mind you, even WWE knows he is too dull for that, and then Orton goes to RKO Batista, but instead Batista shoves him into a running knee from DB.
Batista hits what I guess he considers a spear and then Triple H gets into the ring to talk some shit to Bryan. He crouches over him and says he is tired of his fantasy crap, but Bryan kicks him in the head instead, which as you will soon read turned out to be a mistake on his part in the long run.
After the kick, Batista hit Bryan with a Batista bomb, but it got a lot worse. Bryan had drawn the ire of Triple H, and it was pedigree time. Triple H hooked the arms, and kept them hooked as he drove Bryan’s face into the mat with a vicious, old school style pedigree. He then stood over Bryan looking super badass and Stephanie showed up, mocking Bryan with sarcastic yes chants. The crowd was still chanting CM Punk.
Very entertaining build for the match between Bryan and Triple H, and the Mania card is shaping up nicely. This was probably my favorite episode of Raw in 2014 so far.